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January 29, 1973

Hazards of Mercury Thermometers

Author Affiliations

Poison Control Center and Department of Pediatrics Nassau County Medical Center East Meadow, NY

JAMA. 1973;223(5):559. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03220050059028

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To the Editor.—  In their LETTER TO THE EDITOR, Kern et al (222:88, 1972) report that "several cases of mercury poisoning have been described as a result of broken thermometers." They do not specify whether these episodes were from oral ingestion of mercury from broken thermometers or if the mercury from the thermometer was imbedded in tissue., Each year, our Poison Control Center receives 20 to 25 calls from anxious parents whose children have bitten and broken thermometers and ingested the mercury.In regard to mercury orally ingested, we would like to make a few points of significance.

  1. Thermometers contain metallic mercury, which oxidizes too slowly in the intestinal tract to yield the mercury ion for absorption and is, therefore, not a hazard. In the past ten years, we have encountered no toxicity from this source of mercury. A small danger may exist from the broken glass.

  2. Parents